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Depression returns


The review of The Art of Ageing
Sherwin Nuland Surgeon
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Now I was the only member of the editorial board who had an essay in each issue, just as Joseph Epstein had had when he was… and Joseph Epstein was known to be a man of significant bitterness, significant resentfulness. For all of his wonderful writing, he was not liked by a lot of people because of these characteristics. And I well remember our first few editorial board meetings, in which Anne Fadiman found it necessary to say how nice he had been to her, because we were all expecting him to explode and treat her very badly, but he'd been nice to her, in spite of his reputation for being a real son of a gun.

So, lo and behold, I write this book. This is after… about two years after Anne was fired, and he is in his mid-70s, Epstein. And of all the people they could have asked to review it, Epstein is given the job of reviewing my book. And of course, he knows exactly who I am, exactly what I've done. He's read my memoir, in which I talk about having changed my name from Nudelman to Nuland and so on. And in his review, he says, it seems to me that two people wrote this book. The cool and calm and wise Dr Nuland and this…whatever… I forget what the adjectives were, Nudelman. And he goes through it paragraph by paragraph, saying Nudelman says this, and making fun of it, ridiculing whatever Nudelman wrote and saying pretty good things about what Nuland wrote. I had recovered from my big depression… let's see, 1974. This was now 2007. So, a long time. More than 30 years. 35 years. It never occurred to me I'd have another depression, because I was so well, I'd been so happy for all those years. I never thought neurotic thoughts, I never thought obsessional thoughts, I never got depressed. I was just terrific, having a great time. I read that review… oh, I didn't read that review, sorry. The phone rang on Wednesday evening. The review was to come out on Sunday. I didn't even know the book had been reviewed, I didn't know who had reviewed it. We don't get our Times book review until Saturday. It's a Sunday review. But we have a friend who subscribes to a special service, and she gets it on Wednesday. Her husband, who is actually my great friend of 30 years, I guy I admire a great deal and work with quite a bit, calls me, and in his thick Hungarian accent, says to me, 'Who is Joseph Epstein?' I said, why? He said, 'He reviewed your book in the New York Times Sunday Book Review and listen to what he said'. And he reads to me all of the paragraphs that begin with Nudelman. I was devastated. I couldn't understand. This is this book I had such high hopes for. Why had he done this? What vicious motive did he have to hold me up to ridicule as this, sort of, fool, Nudelman. And it was as if he brought back the difficulties of my childhood. I hung up the phone, and I know this sounds strange, within 48 hours I was deeply depressed, and soon became obsessional, too.

Sherwin Nuland (1930-2014) was an American surgeon and author who taught bioethics, the history of medicine, and medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. He wrote the book How We Die which made The New York Times bestseller list and won the National Book Award. He also wrote about his own painful coming of age as a son of immigrants in Lost in America: A Journey with My Father. He used to write for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time, and the New York Review of Books.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: The New York Times, How We Die, Art of Ageing, The New York Times Book Review, Joseph Epstein, Anne Fadiman

Duration: 4 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2011

Date story went live: 04 November 2011